Austin, TX. The themes for this year’s NIWeek are Big Analog Data (a phrase NI has trademarked) and the Internet of Things (IoT). And, to emphasize the size of the challenges as well as the solutions, NIWeek has taken over more and more of the Austin Convention Center the last couple of years. Ballroom D used to be the venue for the keynotes, but with 3,200 attendees this year, had become too small. It’s now the press room and the keynotes are using one of the very large exhibition halls on the first level.
The overall trend has been for NI to move up the food chain, offering complete shrink-wrapped ready-to-go system solutions as standard products. Last year, the Semiconductor Test System was introduced, and this year it has been followed by the Wireless Test System—a chassis with robust input connectors and signal conditioning, a couple of vector signal transceiver modules, and a controller in a compact housing. Of course, there also are sufficient software modules to handle a wide range of protocols and test types.
Dr. Truchard kicked off the opening session with a discussion that highlighted the importance of the “acquire/analyze/present” model that has been key to NI’s success, although with different terminology over the years. The combination of input signal conditioning and A-to-D conversion, fast FPGA-based signal analysis, and flexible connectivity to networks, the cloud, or archiving remains the model of choice to provide the distributed intelligence demanded by the IoT.
Sometimes these small systems are called edge nodes. They acquire signals and together with other nodes may form a larger system or system of systems. Platforms like these provide standardization that facilitates sensor connection and data sharing. However, it’s not really possible to predict what innovations the IoT may foster. In some presentations, the IoT has been linked with the next industrial revolution—it’s that important.
NI’s platforms support test and measurement as well as embedded industrial applications. It may be more appropriate for embedded applications to label the three steps “interact/compute/connect.” Connectivity is seen as particularly important in adding value to data because it allows widespread sharing and analysis. On the other hand, the speed of the compute step has become critical in very large applications, and FPGAs and GPUs are part of those solutions. In one example, an NI controller is being used to adjust the blade angle of a large wind turbine in real time.
The point was made a few times that a lot of the value in NI’s products is based on the large amount of leveraging the company enjoys from commercial technologies. NI doesn’t develop ADCs or microprocessors, but the company does work closely with the manufacturers that do make these products.
Jaguar/Land Rover’s engineering group generates 500 GB of data per day. The company was having trouble retrieving the data and analyzing it—they estimated that only 10% of the data was being analyzed. NI’s DIAdem 2015 data finder server edition was installed, greatly improving the data handling efficiency. The company now claims to analyze 95% of their data. In a related presentation, smart data acquisition was emphasized, which analyzes data at the source, only saving results. The new Compact DAQ 14-slot USB 3.0 chassis was given as an example of a fast, smart DAQ system.
Berlin Heart makes machines that provide life support for children awaiting heart transplants, and the machines are based on NI’s Compact DAQ. A new quad-core ATOM-based controller has been introduced.
Embraer determined that more ground-based simulation and test would improve aircraft quality. Together with Clemessy, NI provided both large scale simulation as well as large scale physical test.
In a massive seismic research project, ETH Zurich simulated the response of rocks to seismic pulses with a test jig having 800 microphones and 800 speakers. A total of 400 FPGAs were synchronized to analyze the data. Some of the required speed comes from the recently introduced 18-slot PXIe chassis with an eight-core Xeon controller.
NOFFZ and Harmon International are using the wireless test system to simultaneously test four devices. Some of their work is directed at the new European requirement for eCall—an automated emergency phone that is mandated for all new cars.
Innovari has developed units that allow utilities to control some loads within larger enterprises. The idea is to reduce the load in a building for maybe 15 minutes and then move on to another building after restoring the load in the first. By rotating the reduction among several customers, none sees a great effect but the overall power demand is significantly reduced. The units also connect to sources, so you can easily integrate a solar or wind generating system into the grid.
Diagnostic Sonar is using NI technology to make an ultrasound phased array imager to nondestructively examine aircraft composite structures. In this application, size matters because portability is key. However, very high performance also is required to develop the 3D images of damage within the composite components.
And, Samsung has assembled a large MIMO system capable of 3D beam forming—another approach to 5G. Conventional 3G/4G systems don’t make use of elevation. The LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite was helpful in this work.
The highlight of the session was presentation of the huge FireFly turf-cutting machine. Turf is a major industry supporting new construction and large areas such as golf courses. This machine is based on NI technology and includes many innovations such as remote control. In addition to cutting turf, the pieces are neatly stacked on a pallet and deposited in the field for later pickup.